Nokuit – Live At Cafe OTO

Live At Cafe OTO captures the debut 30-minute live performance by sound artist and NKT cassette label head Nokuit, recorded at London’s experimental music epicentre during the summer of 2018.

Presented as a single piece, the set is a bold, antagonising stew of sonic motifs right from the get-go: snatches of news broadcasts, spinning and eddying sounds, recordings of parade ground preparations, noir atmospheres, predatory electronic tones, metallic distortion and squalls of what might be violins are all melded together into something that, in another artist’s hands, might have been noise for noise’s sake.

Instead, the set consists of brief segments of pieces taken from previous Nokuit releases, each one carefully and delicately composed with a curatorial zeal that gives the set a soundtrack-y tension and a claustrophobia-inducing awareness of the value of intricate detail. The result is a busy, restless urgency that is never still for a second and never anything but enveloping and engaging in the completeness of its sonic breadth.

As a piece of brooding, dark ambience, Live At Cafe OTO sounds vaguely like one of the imagined soundtracks for cult books issued by the Bibliotapes imprint, only here the narrative we have is entirely of our own design. Nokuit himself calls it a ‘soundtrack to a film that has left its screenwriters behind’; and yet, in the closing, piano and grubby synth symphony that edges us to the set’s conclusion, we hear faithful echoes of everything from the first Terminator movie to Blade Runner to any other film relying on shadowy, bleak representations of dystopian futures as its central concern.

Live At Cafe OTO by Nokuit was released February 21 2020 by NKT.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

John Chantler & Johannes Lund – Andersabo

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A second duo outing for Swedish / Australian John Chantler (pump organ, synths) and Denmark’s Johannes Lund (saxophone), recorded during a residency in Sweden’s Andersabo.

Consisting of three long tracks, each piece here is its own unique soundworld full of clashing sounds, vibrant tensions and noisy interplay. Opener ‘Back Of The House’ has a playful quality thanks to Lund’s rapid, fluttering saxophone cycles, performed in such a way that he never seems to pause once for breath; his sax might be the focal point but it is the swirling, droning, seesawing organs that set the mood here, creating a beautiful discordant energy.

‘Open Field & Forest’ acts as a moment of quiet repose, Chantler’s sounds acting like a bed of ambient noise over which field recordings of birdsong, creaking wood and insectoid chatter are overlaid. Lund arrives in the piece’s final minutes with some processed, murky bleating that sounds like metallic scraping, but on the whole this piece is a delicate pause for reflection.

In contrast, ‘Under Barn Floor’ is a busy, maximalist summation of both the preceding pieces, built up from earthy, growling sounds, shimmering organ layers and a grubby, subtly nihilistic intensity.

Andersabo by John Chantler and Johannes Lund was released February 12 2020 by Johs & John.

(c) 2020 Further.

Avi Pfeffer – A Lasting Impression

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Classical music and electronics are currently locked in a comfortable embrace. This has arisen largely as a consequence of modern compositional methods which rely heavily on the ambience and atmospherics that a careful-deployed analogue synth or some after-hours digital manipulation can add to the music.

It wasn’t ever thus. From more or less the beginning of synthesizer technology becoming more accessible, the game in town was to produce electronic arrangements of classical pieces, and that’s the jumping-off point for Boston composer Avi Pfeffer’s A Lasting Impression.

The four-part suite uses classical structures and figures but is delivered entirely electronically. Beats drift in then ebb away, melodic gestures re-emerge continually and Pfeffer deploys a dizzying array of sounds, textures and rhythms throughout the almost hour-long album. The tonality of these collected sounds is especially important – this isn’t gauzy, drifting ambience or modern glitch-heavy soundtrack noir, but bold, grandiose sounds arranged into longform movements. I’ve never quite grasped the vernacular to articulate why this is, but there’s something about hearing electronics used in this way – a particular challenge when your diet consists primarily of people twiddling modular synth knobs or making electronic pop – that makes me think of Don Dorsey’s distinctive retrofuturism.

Dorsey made a series of electronic albums in the mid-1980s that essentially took Bach’s music and recreated their austere presentation with an enviable kitlist of cutting-edge electronic equipment, much as Wendy Carlos had done twenty years before. He also went on to be the in-house sound designer for Walt Disney World, composing the fresh, euphoric, scientific-sounding music that’s still memorably piped into places like Epcot and Tomorrowland.

I get the same feeling of hearing something exceptionally forward-looking yet locked in a particular era when listening to A Lasting Impression. If the press release had said Pfeffer had written these pieces thirty-five years ago and they’d languished, unreleased, I’d have not been surprised. To do this type of thing today is brave. We’re not used to hearing electronics like this in 2020, and so to enjoy it requires a little adjustment. Once you do, it’s a perfectly enjoyable record, full of interesting details and moments.

My personal favourite sequence arrives with the gleeful, squelchy opening minutes of the third part, largely because it transports me to the deck of Narcoossee’s on a balmy Florida evening several years ago watching The Electrical Water Pageant (originally scored by Dorsey) burble and fizz its inimitable way past with my daughters; just for giving me the the opportunity to reminisce about that makes this album entirely worth it.

A Lasting Impression by Avi Pfeffer is released February 7 2020 by Pumpedita.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

Sunda Arc – Tides

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My first introduction to Sunda Arc came with a December 2018 show supporting Go Go Penguin at the Royal Albert Hall in London. I was left speechless as brothers Nick and Jordan Smart presented a thrilling, loud, bass-rich techno-inflected set that fused intricate electronics with Jordan Smart’s clarinet; it contained such velocity and intensity that I honestly figured the roof of the 1867 concert venue was going to collapse.

The duo quickly released their debut EP Flicker in the days that followed and it didn’t disappoint, capturing the precise essence of that live set that felt so compatible with Go Go Penguin’s own – in spite of Go Go Penguin’s flavour of jazz being written with electronics but played acoustically, whereas Sunda Arc keep the electronics in. It was, perhaps inevitably, more restrained than the live show had been, but only in volume.

Their debut album, Tides, is, in comparison, strangely muted. Aside from the juddering Warp-inflected ‘Dawn’, the slowly growing shimmer of ‘Everything At Once’, the utterly gorgeous ‘Cluster’, and the ominous kick drums of ‘Hymn’, it’s not that the album lacks energy, it just feels like that energy might have taken on a more rueful, less recognisably euphoric tone. A sparseness, or even a brittleness, permeates through these pieces, spliced in with a cautious fragility maybe. Listen to all the components of the aforementioned ‘Hymn’ and it’s hard to know precisely where that comes from – its juddering electro rhythm has plenty of forward motion, and its central melody is not immediately plaintive, questioning or uncertain.

‘Secret Window’ takes that maudlin disposition and attaches it to delicate piano loops and mournful reeds, while ‘Vespers’ does the same only with sheets of ice-bright Bob Fripp-style atmospherics. These are pieces that feel like they could erupt into something edgy and dangerous at any moment, but instead they stay firmly bedded down in an achingly beautiful, yet ultimately sorrowful place.

Once you realise that this is just where Tides wants to stay, it makes for an incredibly well-crafted, detailed and wonderfully minimalist record, full of meticulous gestures and an ever-shifting palette of complex sounds. In spite of the Smart brothers’ role in hip Norwich modern jazz unit Mammal Hands, any overtones from that group lurking around on Tides are discrete, tentative and sporadic. The mysterious ‘Collapse’ is the exception, Jordan’s bass clarinet leading this album centrepiece through an atmospheric, electronically-structured ride through a vibrant, edgy, futuristic souk.

Tides by Sunda Arc is released February 7 2020 by Gondwana.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

Thomas Köner – Motus

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“I dream of a dance floor where Motus would be enjoyed,” says Thomas Köner. “What kind of society would allow that?”

His ambition isn’t necessarily wilfully controversial or provocative, but it nevertheless underpins a desire to unshackle music from the notion of grids, beats, BPMs and electronic music formalism. Motus is the latest instalment in Köner’s gently subversive approach to analogue synthesis, something I first experienced way back in June 1996 with ‘Untitled’, a track included on a CD given away with The Wire (Miaow! (…Cats What I Call Music)). That track was, on face value, a recording containing virtually nothing, a distant, ephemeral rumble easily overtaken by real life; to experience it, one had to tune everything out, turn it up loud and concentrate very hard. Only then could you hear the rich, undulating turbulence that the piece was actually constructed from. It was loud music, just presented very quietly.

Motus, comparatively, is bold, noisy and restless. Freed from the tyranny of the beat, tracks like ‘SUBSTRATE (Binaural)’ take their forward motion not from an obvious rhythm, but the ebbing waves of a modular sequence, whose pace only alters materially when the waveform is tweaked. The effect is, for those used to hearing music anchored to a pattern of kick drums, hi-hats and snare sounds, mildly unnerving. You want to attach these sequences to a rhythm, even though it’s not there, your inner clock suddenly thrown off track by a subtle modulation here or there.

Strangely, the effect of this – despite being made from nothing more than artificial waveforms and electrical current – is to remind you that nature does not cling rigidly to perfection. Gusts of wind don’t readily adhere to a quantised location on a screen; a bird’s flapping wings are not operating at a consistent BPM; your heart is more than likely not beating at precisely the same pace as it was when you started reading this (it will either have slowed down through disengagement or sped up through the panic of a beat-less musical world). It takes pieces like ‘SUBSTANCE (Suicide)’, and the other six tracks on Motus to make you realise that.

Motus by Thomas Köner is released February 6 2020 by Mille Plateaux.

Words: Mat Smith

(c) 2020 Further.

Infinite Scale – The Value of Accessibility

Following on from their excellent BUNKR and Echaskech releases, VLSI Records continue to cultivate that rare ability in a label of creating a cohesive identity while simultaneously showcasing acts who have their own personalities.

Such is the case with Harmi Paldi, who has been creating music under the alias of Infinite Scale since 2005. Opening track ‘Caught On Tape’ gives the feeling of leaning forward without falling over, like a glitchy, fragmented Jack Dawson holding Rose Dewitt Bukater at a 45-degree angle on the bow of the Titanic.

‘The Chauffeur’ is fuelled by a laconic bass-line that tethers all the other moving parts to its roots. ‘Ordinary Familiar’ splutters wonderfully to a halt like ‘French Kiss’ deprived of its morning caffeine. Album closer ‘Steppa Side’s wooziness suggests a more playful side which strikes a nice balance with the more muted tones of the track that precedes it, ‘Pay For This’.

The album concerns itself with the ease we have of accessing information and the sheer volume of data available to us. It also suggests a longing for the pre-internet days of anticipation and manual discovery. The use of the word ‘tape’ in one of the titles reveals a fondness for the tactile joy of physical objects. In a digital world items such as audio and video cassettes look and feel antiquated, and it’s easy to see why they might become fetishised by generations who were deprived of the pleasure of possessing them first time around.

Does accessibility trump first-hand experience? Can second-hand experiences ever match seeing and feeling things unfold in the flesh? Does it matter? Are we guilty of setting our personal filters too far to the point where we only interact with our own doppelgängers?

Perhaps the reality is if we solely embrace this constant source of never-ending information we will end up isolated and our opinions homogenised.

The Value Of Accessibility‘s strength lies in its ability to process and present ideas without losing its humanity or identity. To have information at one’s fingertips suits those of us who can no longer can be free in their movements, whether due to geographical responsibilities, mobility issues, or the end of free movement in Europe post-Brexit. Luckily, records such as these transcend physical borders.

The Value Of Accessibility by Infinite Scale is released January 31 2020 by VLSI Records.

Words: David Best. David is a founding member of Fujiya & Miyagi and Ex-Display Model.

(c) 2020 David Best for Further.

Richard Skelton – LASTGLACIALMAXIMUM

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Richard Skelton’s latest album is a forty-minute evocation of the growth, peak and accelerated thawing of the British and Irish glacial landscapes, presented as a series of eight movements of slow, developing tones that ebb away into quiet murmurs; basically, it’s like Morton Feldman, on ice.

The effect is powerfully disconcerting when heard in the context of climate change and the insistent messages of politician, scientists, protesters about the urgency of the corrective action that might be required to arrest the impact.

Across these movements there is a sense of stillness and calm, but also a slightly dizzying sensation. The precise instrumentation is not disclosed, and one never knows the origins of these long, eddying indeterminate tones and warped, muffled drones; at times it sounds like industrial, metallic noise, while at others we hear what could be an especially mournful, poignant cello, only presented like a vague outline of something that once was, but which can never be again. Sounds drift in and out, like gusts of wind across the arctic tundra, only presented as fleetingly melancholic, and edged with a frosty tension. There is a feeling of isolation, a panic-inducing out-of-placeness, that sensation being all the more remarkable given the levels of nothingness one experiences here.

Your response to music is often entirely situational. For me, I chose to listen to this during the clamour and franticity of a walk three and a half blocks from a hotel in New York to a downtown E train during the rush hour. Something about the slow, ominous passage of the music chimed menacingly with the post-work streetscene of manic Manhattan, a world removed from the subject matter of Skelton’s remarkable work, yet somehow entirely in tune with it.

LASTGLACIALMAXIMUM by Richard Skelton is released February 2 2020 by Corbel Stone Press

(c) 2020 Further.